Crimson Dawn (Part 1): Rebirth
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Thin rays of sunlight poked like spikes over the electrified wall of Perching Tree and twinkled upon droplets of blood thwacking into the mud. A musty decay wafted from the goat’s shredded torso that forced even the seasoned detective to lean back and hold his breath. He shone his flashlight over the corpse. “Well? What do ya think?” the farmer chirped, sticking his thumbs in the straps of his denim overalls. “Chupacabra? Thief? They got zombies now?”

Detective Buck Walters answered with a voice constricted by the stench. “It ain’t a Chupacabra, Mr. Booker. Don’t act an idiot.” He pointed the light toward a jagged wound in the goat where gnats swarmed and maggots wriggled. “That there’s the work of a man. You can see the knife wound there…and there.” He shone the light toward three more points of origin, which drew together towards the middle of the animal in the shape of a star in which the center was removed.

Adam clicked his tongue. “Damn shame. That was one of my best bucks. And what do you reckon they did with the head?”

Buck nodded toward the left of Mr. Booker’s dilapidated barn. “I think you ought to see this yourself.” Adam followed him around the barn where the smell of rot  was replaced with manure, then stumbled as pale disbelief constricted his expression. The incessant buzzing of more gnats covered the goat’s head which topped a pike in the mud. The bugs feasted on its eye sockets and extended tongue, ignoring the curling horns which were left in pristine bone-white condition. But what horrified the farmer even more was the large red lettering on the barn, hand-painted with the fallen goat’s blood. As if the two men couldn’t see the word clearly enough, the detective shone his flashlight on the slowly drying lettering. “Rebirth?” Adam muttered. “What the…”

Buck nodded. “I don’t know.”


That night, Saddler’s Inn rang with the usual merry tunes as if the world hadn’t ended. People still listened to Mr. Ford’s singing and guitar-strumming, still drank their bellies full, still spent their last pennies, still courted their women, and still spilled their sorrows like it was the 2030s. The only difference was the line “I wouldn’t sleep with you if you were the last man on Earth” rolling off a woman’s lips felt more relevant now. The detective patted at his table with a square napkin which quickly saturated in the spillage of prior patrons. The young bartender, Jake Harding, approached with a notepad in hand. “What can I getcha?”

“Beer. Whatever you’ve got left.”

“That’ll be forty-seven.”

Buck Walters nodded absently and pulled the crumpled bills out of his pocket. He watched the off-duty wall guards three tables away tell each other tall tales and buckle with laughter. He watched the cross-legged Mary-Ann reading a book at the opposite end of the bar. There were the ladies playing bingo in whispers, the men playing poker while smoke rose from their puffing cigars. On any other night, Buck would have watched them with pride – all these people together, in the tightest community over which he could ever wish to preside.

Suddenly, a familiar bellow shook the table and two hairy hands slapped down atop it. “Buck!”

“Hiya, Ron,” the detective mumbled.

“Ain’t happy to see me?”

The detective continued to scan the bustling bar. “Have a seat.”

Ron pulled out the chair opposite Buck. He slapped his elbows onto the table and Buck’s beer swashed and wet the table all over again. “What is it, buddy?”

Buck finally lent his wandering gaze to his old friend. “I dunno Ron, I have a bad feeling about this one. A real bad feeling.”

“This about that goat? You know you ain’t pest control.”

“It’s not just the goat. It’s…” Buck trailed off, watching a drunken Frank Evans elbow his beer off the table, the glass shattering on the floor. Startled, Frank drew his gun on it and nearly squeezed the trigger. His friends wheezed with laughter and he could only return a snarl.

“It’s what? Spit it out.”

“There was more to it than that,” Buck continued. “The thing had a star drawn on it, like the way a kid would draw one in school with lines through it to each point.” The detective outlined the shape that scratched at his memory on the damp table. The top point of the star was faced toward Ron, who watched the outlining intently. “And then there was the head.”

“What? I didn’t hear about no head.”

“Yeah, there’s a reason for that.” Buck leaned in. “Don’t tell no one about this part, okay?”

Ron nodded.

“The fucker decapitated the goat, stuck its head on a pike.”

“Sounds personal. Goat owe him money?”

“And then he…or she…wrote a word with the goat’s blood on the side of the barn.” Buck mouthed the word. ‘Rebirth’.

“So at least you know he’s literate. That rules out about half the bimbos in Perching Tree,” Ron wheezed.

“That’s the thing, it has to be someone in Perching Tree. Electric fence wasn’t triggered. Not the wall, not the farmer’s. Guy got in and out no problems.” Buck grinded his teeth, then continued. “Don’t this remind you of when everything first started? The religious fanatics, the cults, the doomsayers coming out of every nook and cranny. Was like everyone you knew turned out to be nuts when shit hit the fan.”

Ron’s mouth closed to a pensive frown. “Woulda thought a doomsayer’d be out of work after doomsday. But then there’s always guys like Frank over there,” he stuck a fat finger in the gun-toting beer-belly’s direction. “Rumor’s the man’s got a whole arsenal in that cellar of his. But could be her too,” he shifted toward Mary-Ann who was licking her finger to turn a page of her book with a black cover. “She goes to church all the time, there’s your religious type. And who the hell reads in a place like this? Maybe it’s that priest she goes to. Maybe it’s ol’ Sam, dude’s always been a wacko. Could even be just a couple kids playing a prank.”

Buck grunted disapprovingly, took a sip of his flattening beer. “Kids woulda been loud for sure. Booker didn’t see nothin’, his dogs never heard a thing. And no way’s a kid gettin’ by his electric fence.”

“No one from the Wild,” Ron added. “No breeches of the wall in the last eight months. Wait…how about Burke? Guy runs all the town’s electricity. He’s even got an apprentice now…yeah, little Billy Lyons. Kit’s boy.”

“I guess…” the detective said. “thought all he knew were switchboards though, didn’t think the two of ‘em could get through Green Eggs and Ham together.”

Ron cackled.

“You see my problem? It could be anyone.”

“Eh, either way, don’t let it keep you up. Why don’t ya come by the house some time? Have dinner with Lily and me? She’s been dyin’ to see her godfather. I tell her you out solvin’ crimes, but that just gets her more interested.” Ron began to stand, leaning on the table. It creaked and dipped towards him. “But I ain’t tellin’ her about no goat.”

The detective nodded and rubbed at the condensation on his glass. “How old’s Lily now? Five?”

“Seven,” Ron said with a disappointed hinging in his jowls. He caught a glimpse of a friend through the crowds and took off without another word.

Buck took a gulp of the stale beer and by the time his eyes returned to the table, a familiar elderly woman was standing over him in her nightgown with her hands on her hips. “Ms. Potter. Fancy seeing you in a place like this.”

She sighed. “Believe me, I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have to be. I checked down at the station, then your house. Then it took your neighbor, Ellie, to tell me you were probably out drinkin’ at Saddlers. You know it shouldn’t be so hard to get a hold of the law around here.”

The detective smiled politely. “What can I do for you, ma’am?”

“The birds.”

“The what?”

“The birds, detective!” Her neck jiggled. “How many people do I have to tell about those damn things flying into my house before I can get your attention? Goat at Booker’s gets looked at the same day. Two weeks after birds start breaking my windows and not a peep from you.”

“He ain’t animal control,” Ron chimed in as he darted across the bar to another friend walking in.

“Nobody but those pea brains of theirs and the glass of your windows are killin’ them, are they?” Buck asked.


“So what will you have me do, Miss Potter? Arrest the whole flock?”

“I don’t know, something! I can’t get a wink of sleep with those things pounding on my windows day and night. Won’t you at least have a look?”

Buck Walters rolled his eyes and bit his tongue. Miss Potter was the kind of woman who nobody could stand but everyone knew had the closest connection to God behind Father Jonathan if you believed in that sort of thing. The detective wasn’t a believer, but he every now and then he’d give the ol’ big man a nod just in case.

So first thing the next morning, Buck was knocking on the mansion’s door. The Potter house was once full of clinking glasses and parties and kids running through every one of its fifty-seven rooms. Now, it rang with haunting echoes and collected dust atop picture frames of a family Perching Tree had long forgotten. Buck rolled his feet on the WELCOME mat next to the stone statue of Mary and noticed the worn sticker next to the door reading ‘NO SOLICITORS’. “Detective,” Wilma Potter said.


There was a long pause as they looked at each other. Wilma’s eyebrows raised and she extended her arms. “Well? What do you think?”

“Of what?” Buck said. “I ain’t seen no birds.”

“No b –” Miss Potter huffed. “Just follow me.”

Buck followed the old woman through the maze of rooms and spiraling staircases to the rear-end of the house and all the way there, he couldn’t help but notice how lonely an empty mansion was. Those dusty old pictures of long-dead smiles were the only company Wilma would ever have. The old woman grabbed one curtain and yanked it open, the rusting rod screeching. Buck grabbed at his chin, staring through the shattered windows. The yard was black.

“You mean to tell me…”

“Yes, detective. Those are all birds.”

He scanned the yard. Not a single blade of grass poked from between the clumps of feathers. In various stages of decomposition, they lay wing-to-wing, beaks scratched and smashed, legs tucked in, feathers spread. And if the light caught them at just the right angle, a dark blueish green shone off their wings like an oil slick. “Christ,” he muttered. “There’s gotta be…”

“Hundreds. Maybe a couple thousand.”

“And this has all been over the last couple weeks?”


“My God.”

“Not God,” Wilma pushed her lips together and shook her head. “Something sinister. Something’s been different about this town lately. It’s not just the birds. There’s an evil here. I feel it in my bones.”

On his way out, Buck tried to shake the images of animal corpses plastered on his mind. I ain’t animal control, he thought. And though Buck wasn’t religious either, he sensed the old woman was onto something. Thirty years on the job, and not once had he seen something so bizarre.

Upon the foyer table was a golden frame carrying a mound of dust. Buck wiped it with his finger and the dust sprinkled, dancing in the air. He then picked up the frame. It was a picture of a young woman, a burly man, and six kids. Buck admired it: this was the first time he’d even seen Wilma smiling. She snatched back the frame. “Give me that.” But Wilma didn’t place it back on the table. She examined it, and suddenly her shoulders untwined and her usual wrinkled scowl turned to reserved peace. “My husband and I,” she reminisced. She pointed to each of the children. “That was Christopher, that one Sally, then Judy, Peter, Luke, and last one’s Paul. Such beautiful children.”

Buck dropped his head. “I’m sorry, ma’am.”

“You know, I ain’t so different from you,” the old lady said. “I lost everything when the bombs dropped. One minute I had it all, next…I’m attendin’ seven funerals.” She paused, placed the photograph down, looked up to the detective. “You ever think about them, Buck? About what your life woulda been like without the war?”

Buck nodded. “Yes, ma’am. All the time. My little Jenny was…such a bright young lady. She got so sick. So, so sick.”

“Mine too. But those chemicals never got to us, did they? Always wonder why. God works in mysterious ways, don’t he?”

Buck clenched his teeth, looking toward the back of the house where the piles of crows lay in rigor mortis. “I guess.”

Suddenly, a scream rang out. Wilma and Buck looked at each other for a long moment before Buck dashed out of the house toward the cries. It was the Evans household. Deidra was shaking on the front stoop before her swaying son. Her face was red. Her lips trembled. Tears cascaded over her cheeks and Patrick returned a blank stare through his eyebrows. “Ma’am?” Buck called out. “Mrs. Evans?”

Her chest fluttered violently. She sobbed, clutching her chest. Frank stumbled to the doorway with a gun in hand, his eyes darting across the onlooking crowds. There was Wilma and Jonah and Nathan. Anthony and Gertrude and Patricia and Billy and Zane. But the one among them that didn’t flinch, that remained uncharacteristically composed with perfect posture and a scattered smile through his long beard was Sam Livéd.

“Which one of you was it, damn it?” Frank yelled. “I’ll fuckin’ kill you! Every last one of you!”

The detective ran to the family and motioned for Frank to lower his weapon. “Woah, Frank,” he warned. “You can’t be pulling that thing on people, you know that.”

“It’s my son, Buck. They fucked with my son,” he screamed, yanking at Pat’s shirt.

And for the second time that day, the detective stared in horror. From shoulder to shoulder to waist a dripping, bloody star was etched into his back with a circle around it. Pat swayed harder and rasped. He then lost his feet and crumpled into his mother’s arms.

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